This post is courtesy of greyzone Guest Blogger, Gerry Valentine.

When you’re in a job search, the impression you make on other people is critical. It determines which opportunities you’ll gain access to—i.e. which interviews you’ll get—and ultimately how successful your job search will be. But, how do you really know what people think? More importantly, how do you manage the impression you leave so that it works in your favor? The answer is a powerful (yet often overlooked) job search tool: gathering feedback.

Gathering feedback can be a critical pre-job search tool.  Understanding how other’s see you allows you to show up as you best self during interviews, and can get your job search back on track if you’re not seeing the results you would like.

Feedback is about understanding your blind spots

The problem many people face is that they have blind spots—issues that they are unaware of. Sometimes they’re small challenges, like appearing nervous. Other times they might be larger problems that have festered over time, and may even have become part of their reputation, like a reputation for not being a team player.

The best way to understand you blind spots is to get some feedback. With the right information, blind spots become opportunities you can address directly.

It’s always best to gather feedback from multiple sources. You want input from as many vantage points as possible—not just from your boss or other superiors, but also from peers, subordinates, and other colleagues that you interact with.  This is sometimes called 360-degree feedback, because it’s feedback from all angles. During a job search you’re likely to interact with a broad range of people, so it’s helpful to have as much information as possible.

For example, in my role as an executive coach, I’ve worked with clients who had excellent relationships with their boss, but were viewed as arrogant or condescending by peers and subordinates. This could be a serious blind spot when job hunting as many companies have candidates interview at multiple levels in the organization. Also, in today’s hyper-connected world, the internal reputation you’ve built at one company may sometimes precede you at a new company.

The golden rule of feedback: Always take it seriously, never take it personally

Soliciting feedback—and listening effectively when feedback is given—is an important skill. The secret is something I call “the golden rule of feedback”: Always take it seriously, never take it personally. That means, even if you get feedback that hurts, that you believe is in accurate, or that you believe is unfair, you must always take it seriously. And, you must put aside any personal feelings that get in the way of really listening to the feedback.

The telltale signs that people are taking feedback personally (rather than seriously) are easy to spot: People become defensive, they deny it, and they may even try to explain why the feedback isn’t accurate. But, whether you agree with the information received or not, it’s the other person’s perception. When you’re in a job search, other people’s perception become your reality.

How to get the feedback you need

The key to gathering productive feedback is simple—just become curious. Your only objective is to gather data on the impression you leave. Enter every feedback conversation with the goal of being genuinely curious about the other person’s point of view. If you feel a pang of defensiveness, take a deep breath and go back to being curious.

Here are some great feedback questions you can consider, all of which are based on curiosity:

  • What are five to ten words that come to mind when you think of me and my work performance?
  • What do you believe are the three greatest strengths that I bring to the organization?
  • What are the three most important development opportunities you think I could work on right now?
  • When you think of our past work together, is there anything I could have done differently that would have made me more effective?
  • How would you describe the experience of working with me?
  • As I think about my future career prospects, what specific areas do you think I should focus on?
  • Are there any blind-spots you believe I should be aware of in planning my job search?

I typically recommend speaking to ten to fifteen people. They should be people who you work with in various capacities—i.e. bosses, peers, subordinates, even outside vendors or partners. You can also speak to people you’ve worked with in past jobs.

There’s another valuable source of feedback that most people overlook—a job that you interviewed for but didn’t get. Often people let hurt feelings get in the way (i.e. they take the situation personally) rather that seeing these as potential sources of valuable information. This is especially true if you were a final (or near-final) candidate, or if you had a particularly good rapport with someone in the interview process. You also want to be mindful of how you ask for feedback in this situation. Don’t ask questions like “why didn’t you hire me” or anything that might make the other person uncomfortable. Instead, seek information on how you came across, anything you could have done better during the process, or anything they thought was lacking in how you presented your background.

Leveraging feedback for your job search strategy

If you’ve remained curious, you’ll likely have a robust set of observations on how people experience you. And, even in cases where you disagree, you understand why the person providing the feedback feels the way they do. You also probably have a long list of strengths others see in you; some of which may have come as a surprise.  Now it’s time to leverage this information to support your job search strategy.

There are three steps:

  1. Decide what’s important – Although you need to listen and be curious when gathering feedback, that shifts when you analyze the feedback. Now you get to decide what’s important for your job search, what’s not, and what you might want to put aside for a later time. For example, maybe you got feedback that you’re not seen as creative. That may not be important if you’re targeting a job in accounting. That doesn’t necessarily mean you doubt the feedback, it’s just not a priority right now. On the other hand, if you heard that your communication skills aren’t great, that input is probably very important for interviewing.
  2. Create a short-term action plan – Make a list of three to five high-level observations that you believe are important for your job search. They can be hard skills (like communication) or more pervasive tendencies, like you don’t work well in ambiguous situations. For the hard skills that are important, think of ways that you can quickly improve; for example, could you take a communication workshop? For the more pervasive tendencies, think of how these observations might influence your thinking on the best opportunities for a next step. If you struggle in ambiguous situations, maybe the best next step might be a role that prizes specificity and detailed thinking.
  3. Look for the hidden gems – This is the best part! People sometimes avoid feedback because of the fear that it will be overwhelmingly negative; but that’s rarely the case. In fact, when I report back on feedback I’ve gather for my clients, people are often pleasantly surprised to learn of strengths they hadn’t realized. When you review your feedback, look for the consistent strengths that you might not have considered—I call them hidden gems. These can suggest new options and strategies for your job search. Sometimes these hidden gems open entirely new avenues of opportunity you hadn’t previously considered.

Good Luck!

Bio:Gerry Valentine is an executive coach and public speaker with 25 yrs. Fortune 100 experience. He advises business leaders and entrepreneurs.

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